Statheads see a different game

July 8, 2013 

Last week, I wrote a column comparing Jeff Francoeur and Jason Heyward. The story hit the Internet, and it’s a wonder my name didn’t start trending worldwide with the massive blowup on Twitter.

I did the unthinkable -- criticized a player adored by statheads, those who prefer to look at the game with a more analytical view instead of just enjoying the game of baseball.

They love Heyward because he walks a lot and other things that are graded by the statistics they choose to look at. They hated Francoeur because he didn’t walk a lot, and there’s little way I can defend that. It’s what got Francoeur designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals just days after the Atlanta Braves left Kansas City.

The folks who criticized the column are missing the point. I know there are stats that show Heyward has done better in his first three-and-a-half seasons than Francoeur. But it still falls short of the expectations that were in place for Heyward, which is the same thing that happened to Francoeur. Many fans believe Heyward simply would be better by now in his career.

Can we truly believe Heyward is going to follow up his solid month of June (.312, four home runs, nine RBI and a .370 on-base percentage) with another good month in July? Consistency has been a problem for Heyward in his career, and that’s what still has him short of the lofty expectations of him when he first came up.

Statheads only respect people who watch the game the way they do, with a slide rule and more stats with acronyms than you can ever imagine. They even make up their own stats, mainly so they can fully make their argument about what they believe about a particular player.

They don’t care that most people don’t know what WAR is or that it doesn’t really matter to many what a player’s BAbIP is. And if you don’t know what that is, don’t expect an explanation here.

I appreciate the fact there are more numbers that can explain things, but many people, including myself, simply don’t need that to enjoy the game of baseball. And look out if you don’t, because the statheads are going to call you ever name in the book.

Stats are fine, to a point. I like seeing what a player’s batting average is, how many home runs and RBI he has and can even stomach seeing what the on-base percentage is. But get too far past that, and it is just gets to be too much. Let the young kids sit with their calculators and watch the games. That’s fine. I don’t need that and neither do most who watch baseball.

Statheads have never really liked me, mainly because about eight years ago I wrote a book that had the audacity to challenge their self-appointed bible, a book called “Moneyball.” I simply believe there are other ways to look at talent and how to determine who can make it in the major leagues. Others lean toward stats and ignore other issues. Neither way is perfect, but the reliance on stats predominantly over makeup and a scout’s intuition took off after Michael Lewis’ book.

There’s a place for that, and most teams have even hired people to sit and crunch numbers all day. But it has totally brainwashed people into believing that if you don’t buy into this, you’re simply old and out of touch. But isn’t it OK to just sit and enjoy a baseball game without getting wrapped up in the numbers?

Statheads cling to people who represent their cause, like Heyward. Sure, he’s a good player, but they believe he’s a great player, despite the inconsistencies and despite the fact Heyward still can’t hit left-handed pitchers. He’s hitting .182 this season against southpaws and only .221 in his career.

Is this a great player or a player who might need to be platooned? Is Heyward going to be another Albert Pujols, as we were told three-plus years ago when he came up, or another Claudell Washington, who played with the Braves back in the 1980s and was simply a good baseball player?

Chipper Jones was a great player. He was a switch-hitter and hit better than .300 in his career against both right and left-handed pitchers. Heyward has a long way to go to even think about being in that company.

Yet statheads will still scoff at this. They’ll point out some stat that will show that Heyward has simply been unlucky in his career against left-handers. They’ll give me some acronym that will attempt to explain it.

But what they don’t realize is that I really don’t care -- and neither do a lot of baseball fans. Heyward is a good player, but he has not lived up to his high expectations -- at least not yet. Those who have watched the games don’t really need any acronym to tell them that, much to the consternation of people who simply look at the game differently in this new age of baseball.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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